Updated 22 May 2017

Are you allergic to your jewellery?

Here's what to do if your jewellery makes you come up in hives - or makes your skin turn green.

Many people cannot wear jewellery as accessories, because it makes their skin erupt into red and itchy hives or causes an eczema-like reaction. What can you do if your grandmother’s necklace makes your skin look like that of an iguana?

Greenish stains on the skin where it came into contact with jewellery, is a very widespread problem. This does, however, not have anything to do with an allergy, as it is merely the oxidation process of jewellery, other than gold, that turns the skin green, says Dr David Herschtal, a Fort Lauderdale dermatologist. Sweating makes the problem worse, as the sodium chloride contained in sweat slightly corrodes the metal.

“Many people suffer from real allergic reactions to especially nickel, found in most cheap jewellery. This can create red, itching hives or something that looks like eczema – itchy, dry, crusty and red with watery blisters. The latter is called allergic contact dermatitis and is usually restricted to the area of contact. A nickel allergy tends to be a chronic life-long condition”, added Herschtal.

Nickel is usually mixed with other metals to produce alloys, and is used to make a wide variety of goods in everyday use, such as coins, bra fasteners, zips, hairpins, costume jewellery, studs, handles, paper clips, and keys. It is difficult to avoid, as it is everywhere. Fortunately, for most people, more than a passing contact is necessary for the skin to react adversely.

What you can do other than never wearing jewellery again

  • Spend money on buying real gold (Silver often contains nickel).
  • Put plastic or stainless steel backs onto earrings thereby avoiding contact with the skin.
  • To avoid the green stain caused by different types of metals, pretreat the exposed part of your skin with prescription cortisone cream. Do it again 3 hours later. This could build up a temporary resistance.
  • Paint jewellery with clear nail polish where it comes into contact with your skin.
  • Wear jewellery only to special events and take it off once you get home.
  • Moisturising cream applied to your skin prior to putting on jewellery can protect a protective barrier.
  • Really good pieces of jewellery can be electro-plated, which will cover the surface with a ‘good’ metal.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated March 2012)


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Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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